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In Love With: Deco Delights

07.15.2008 by André Natta · → 7 Comments

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Electra - Bob Farley/f8photoIn the 1920s and ‘30s, if you wanted your building to have a cool, modern look, you built it in the Art Deco style—all sleek lines, bold forms, and geometric shapes, reflecting the rise of technology. Hot spots for this style included New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, but Birmingham wasn’t left behind.

In fact, one of our Art Deco landmarks was something of a trendsetter. The old Alabama Power Building was praised by the London Daily Express as one of the most beautiful public utility buildings in the world—exciting, huh? But the more interesting fact is that the building was completed in 1925, the year often marked as the beginning of the Art Deco era (though the style had developed in Europe before then). Birmingham’s architects were ahead of the curve.

The Alabama Power Building is still very impressive today, even though its 18th Street location is surrounded by more modern forms of architecture. The façade is full of different shapes and colors, and you can’t help but move your eyes up the front of the building, following the vertical lines right to the rooftop, where you’ll find the golden statue of Electra brandishing her lightning bolts. Imagine how stunning this building looked to Birminghamians when it was new—especially since its neighborhood at the time was mostly residential!
Birmingham is dotted with other Art Deco examples, including the Jefferson County Courthouse and a few of the buildings around Five Points South. (The next time you’re down there, look up above the Original Pancake House and notice the intricate designs carved into the façade.) But there’s one small, impressive piece of Art Deco architecture in town that’s easy to drive or walk right past: the 20th Street railroad underpass. Look at all the detail in the stylized eagles and flowers surrounding the 1931 inscription—and see how beautifully they have been cleaned, painted, and restored. The city and business leaders came together to make that underpass look more inviting, and they did a great job. It looks more like a gateway now.

Have you noticed any Art Deco gems in your part of town?  List them here if you have—because I want to check them out!

Photo: Bob Farley/f8photo

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6 comments
Urban Fabric
Urban Fabric

This is one of my favorite buildings in the city.

Charles
Charles

Molly, I would say those buildings are in a Spanish mission style (I believe the buildings containing Highlands restaurant and the adjacent businesses were originally called the "Spanish Stores"). That style was popular around the 1910s and 1920s, and Homewood's Hollywood neighborhood has many prime examples. Patrick, the Kress building is a beautiful, serene piece of Art Deco. So is the part of the McWane Science Center that used to be Loveman's department store. You can't get much more Art Deco than the famous clock and the metal detailing on the exterior walls. (And I'll try to do more architecture!) John, do you know if the Medical Arts Building (now the Hotel Highland) built in the '30s? It definitely has some Art Deco elements as well. Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone!

John
John

Hardly a scientific sampling, but a search for "art deco" on Bhamwiki turned up a few examples: * Watts Building (1927) * Drug Co. Building (Birmingham Police Headquarters, 1928) * Ramsey-McCormack Building (Bank of Ensley, 1929) * Carver Theatre (1935) * Medical Alumni Building (1936)

Patrick
Patrick

I think City Hall is Art Deco too, isn't it? And it looks to me like Homewood's city hall pays homage to it with aspects of the Art Deco style as well. Has anyone else noticed this? The Energen building also pays homage to Art Deco. The S. H. Kress building is classic Art Deco. Let's have more architecture posts!

Molly
Molly

What architectural style is the building that houses the Pita Stop on 12th Street South,the row of shops connected to The Highland Bar and Grill? It is fascinating to drive along the streets in the original Dountown Birmingham business district and see how the building have been retored to their original exteriors.

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